experiments in cooking

Archive for August, 2010

All Good but the Crispy Garlic

Last night I tried two new dishes: angel hair pasta with olive oil and garlic, and a raspberry crunch (adapted from a cranberry crunch recipe).

The angel hair pasta was a side dish for salmon baked in lemon sauce. My Joy of Cooking warned me not to add cheese to the pasta dish, and I’m glad I didn’t. The fish and pasta went together well. The only problem I had was that the recipe instructed me to saute the garlic for about two minutes, but within just one minute it was browned and crisp. So we had a bit of crispy garlic  texture in our pasta.

The raspberry crunch also was based on a Joy of Cooking recipe. It was extremely easy to put together, and featured my favorite new baking ingredient: oatmeal. The recipe was originally a “cranberry crunch,” but I substituted raspberries for cranberries and cut back on the amount of added sugar. I also had slightly less than the 1 cup of brown sugar called for–about 3/4 cup, so I scaled back the other dry ingredients slightly as well and had to settle for less topping on top of the raspberries. I made sure the bottom crust. Also, I fortunately have an 8×8 pan, which the recipe is written for.

After dinner, I threw out the leftover pasta. We convinced Jonah to suck up a noodle or two, but Neeley wouldn’t touch it, so there was a lot left, and I don’t much like reheated pasta. I hope to eat more of the raspberry crunch tonight, however–and perhaps it will be firm enough, now that it is cool, to cut into bars as the recipe suggests–but I have my doubts.

Joy of Cooking‘s Cranberry [or raspberry] Crunch

Butter an 8″x8″ baking dish.

1 c old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
1 c packed dark brown sugar (I had only light brown sugar)
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt. (I used only 1/4 teaspoon, with the salty apple crisp I made recently so fresh in my mind)

8 T (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.

Cut the butter into the dry mixture until it’s crumbly but holds together when pressed. Spread half the mixture over the bottom of the baking dish, and press very gently with your hand, packing it very slightly.

Cover with:
3 c fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over. (I used raspberries) 

Sprinkle with:
1/2 c sugar. (I used approximately 1/3 cup sugar) 

Top the sugar-sprinkled cranberries with the remaining crumb mixture. Bake until the fruit is tender and the crunch is firm and well-browned, about 50-60 minutes. Let cool for 20-30 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Ginger Pear Muffin Success!

I have had a box of ripe pears, given by a friend whose mother has two prolific pear trees, sitting in my basement for a while, and Saturday afternoon I decided it was time to make something with the pears or be forced to throw them out. I decided to try Ginger Pear Muffins, a recipe that came from the friend who gave me the pears. I had a little trouble here and there, but, to my delight, they turned out delicious.

The hardest part of the process was peeling and chopping the pears. They were so soft that it was difficult to grip them or core them, and juice was flying everywhere. But eventually I got the job done. I also had to create my own “buttermilk” by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk. Finally, with different amounts of brown sugar called for in the muffin mix and the topping, I wound up using the wrong amount for the muffin mix itself and then having to figure out how much more I needed to make the amount approximately correct.

I would have been entirely happy with this cooking episode except that my sons refused to eat the muffins. Neeley wouldn’t eat a bite even when Chris and I tried shoving one into his mouth. Jonah took one bite, then said, “These aren’t good muffins,” and when told to eat more, he managed to gag several times at the taste of a bit of pear and actually vomited the muffin onto the table. The incident soured my baking victory somewhat.

I probably could have gotten Jonah to eat the muffin if I had rewarded him with a candy bar. But it just doesn’t feel right to reward a child with one sweet for eating another sweet. Somehow, I am going to have to teach the boys to appreciate home-baked treats.

Below is the final recipe, including possible substitutes for buttermilk.

Ginger Pear Muffins

2 ½ cups cups(625 mL) all-purpose flour (625 mL)
1 tsp(5 mL) baking soda (5 m
1 tsp(5 mL) (5 mL) ground ginger
½ tsp(2 mL) salt(2 mL) sss
½ tsp (2 mL) cinnamon(2 mL)
¾ cup (175 mL) (175 mL) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) vegetable oil
1 egg 
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk (or milk mixed with 1 T vinegar or lemon juice or ¾ tsp cream of tartar)
2cups (500 mL) chopped peeled pears 

1/3 cup(75 mL) packed brown sugar
2 tsp(10 mL) butter, melted
1/4 tsp(1 mL) ground ginger

In bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and cinnamon. In separate bowl, whisk brown sugar with oil; whisk in egg and buttermilk. Pour over dry ingredients; sprinkle with pears and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into greased or paper-lined muffin cups.

Topping: In bowl, combine brown sugar, butter and ginger; sprinkle over batter in muffin cups.

Bake in center of 350°F (180°C) oven until tops are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Freezing My Zucchini

I did very little of what I’d call “real” cooking this week. For example, last night we had salad (red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces by yours truly) and Digiorno Flatbread pepperoni pizza, along with peas for the boys (which they did not eat), a banana for Neeley, and apple sauce for Jonah. Neeley was very upset about the pepperoni being spicy. He spat it out, then was yelling at me,  hopping up and down in his booster seat, and pointing at his tongue, and I was saying, “Take a drink! Take a drink!” But he wouldn’t listen to me … after all, I don’t know anything.

But back to the subject at hand. While the pizza was baking, I decided to grate the zucchini that has been sitting on my countertop since Monday. I decided against baking the chocolate zucchini cake I’ve had in mind (recipe courtesy of friend Abby) because I wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve it to any guests this weekend. Instead, I planned to grate and freeze the zucchini. I did a little research online and decided to just squeeze out all the water I could and freeze the zucchini without any blanching or added salt. I hope to use the zucchini within a few weeks and I don’t expect it to lose much of its baking value in a short time.

The grating went easier this time although I wasted several minutes trying to grate it using my mini food processor. I ended up throwing the food processor in the trash can–its days of usefulness are over–and I went back to the old-school grater. This time I did not peel the zucchini. I did have to pick out an awful lot of seeds, however.

Looking forward to making that chocolate zucchini cake! In which I intend to use NO apple sauce. I need to see what it tastes like without any risky substitution.

Success — Sort of Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

Saturday I tried a new recipe for oatmeal cookies, and they actually turned out great! They were called “Healthy Oatmeal Cookies,” but I added M&M’s because Chris’s birthday is tomorrow and I thought we’d all enjoy some pre-birthday Monster Cookies.  The result was delicious.

I made the cookies with white whole wheat flour and honey I’ve had in the cabinet a long time but hadn’t even opened. I thought about leaving out the molasses but picked some up at Walmart so I could try the recipe with the molasses at least once. (And I’m glad I did–I like the taste.) I also was able to use up some of the M&Ms we got “for free” from Chris’s mom, who sent them home with the boys a couple of weeks ago. I baked them for the minimum time suggested by the recipe and baked them on wax paper instead of directly on the cookie sheet, something I’d never tried before.

The recipe is below.

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies (with Honey)

Dry ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (a pinch more depending on the moisture of the mix)
  • 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups of Large Flake Rolled Oats (smaller flake is ok too)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp Nutmeg (optional)

Wet ingredients

  • ½ cup honey (or try 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup brown sugar)
  • ½ cup oil (corn or olive; you can also use some applesauce to replace some of the oil if you wish)
  • 1 Tablespoon Molasses (maple syrup may work as substitute, or you can leave out entirely if you use brown sugar with honey. Note: brown sugar can substitute for molasses: 1.5 c brown sugar=1 c molasses)
  • 1 egg (beat with 1 Tbsp water. Note: one cook has substituted half a banana, mashed and beaten, for the egg)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla (may use additional ¼ tsp if desired)

Yummy ingredients (optional)

  • ½ cup raisins, other dried berries, or chocolate chips (more if desired)
  • ½ cup walnuts (optional—or add more if desired)
  • ½ cup Shredded carrots or zucchini 
  1. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together. Hint: when measuring out honey, spray measuring cup with oil or baking spray so your honey won’t stick).
  3. Mix the wet stuff with the dry stuff. Add the raisins and walnuts and mix. If the mixture seems too wet, add a bit of flour. If it isn’t binding together very well, you may wish to add an egg white.
  4. Cool the mix for 20 minutes in the fridge.
  5. Preheat the oven to 335 degrees (lower temperature due to the honey in the recipe which will burn more easily).
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet (I recommend lining the baking sheet with parchment paper). Press with fork to ensure even cooking. Alternatively, make as bar cookies, spreading dough out in a pan.
  7. Bake for about 15–20 minutes or until golden on the bottom of the cookie. The cookies freeze very well and make a great snack! Enjoy.

Recipe for a Microwaved Mini Chocolate Cake

I found a recipe that I want to try soon. It looks like a fun one to try with Jonah if we ever have a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon together.

If I make this, I’ll be sure to share how it turned out. I will need to buy some cocoa–don’t have any right now. My only concern at this point is: just how big should the coffee mug be?

Five-minute Chocolate Mug Cake – Found on http://newdressaday.wordpress.com

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (microwave safe)

Add flour, sugar, and cocoa to mug and mix well. Add the egg, mix thoroughly, and then stir in milk and oil. Add chocolate chips and vanilla extract and mix again.

Put mug in the microwave and cook for three minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed! Allow it to cool a little and tip out onto a plate if desired.

Too Much of a Good Thing

I cooked two new dishes last night for supper with Chris’s parents: a cranberry compote and an apple crisp, and each one turned out with a problem. Cranberry compote: too much ginger! And apple crisp: too much salt!

Cranberry compote – there were two problems with this one: first, I think it tasted too strongly of ginger, and second, I didn’t have time to cool the compote completely.

I had to try the compote after my friend Linda, who gave me the recipe after I raved over the compote at her daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner, asked if I’d made it yet. “No,” I said. “Why not?” she scolded me. “Well, I wanted to serve it with pork, and we haven’t had pork in a while,” I answered. She shook her head and me, and on the spot I determined to try the cranberry compote with pork chops this week.

The challenge I ran into was time. Reading the recipe ahead of time, I had calculated I could complete the dish in 15 minutes—which is correct, but I had forgotten to allow time for cooling it off. As a result, I rushed. I hurriedly chopped and minced shallots and garlic cloves (very proud of myself for happening to have both on hand—and how wonderful they smelled!), then with both sautéd I added the berries, sugar, water, rice vinegar, and salt as quickly as I could. At that moment, standing at the stove with the half teaspoon in my hand, I realized I had forgotten the ginger. So I filled the half teaspoon four times with powdered ginger for the required two teaspoons, and set the pot to boil.

It took longer than the suggested 10 minutes for the berries to burst and the mixture to thicken. It was 15 minutes before the mixture looked ready, and then I had to pour it into a dish and shove it into the freezer for 10 minutes, the longest I could spare before setting it in front of my guests—my in-laws.

My assessment: it would have tasted better cooled as directed and with less ginger. I probably added too much, using the half teaspoon four times. Ginger is a spicy, warming herb—and such a gingery dish served warm, with my admittedly bland palate, was, for me, too powerful. Chris claims it was good, and so did my in-laws, but neither Chris or his father like cranberry sauce anyway, and his mom is just a very nice lady, so I think they were either being nice or, possibly more likely, just trying to stop my self-recrimination so they could finish their meal.

I did badger my mother-in-law into giving a little advice: “Maybe just a teeny bit less ginger,” she said, after I prodded about a half-dozen times. Then of course she repeated again that it was fine, it really was.

Well, I know that my cranberry compote was just not as good as Linda’s. I’m sure, when she asks me again if I’ve made it, that I’ll launch into a passionate speech about everything I did wrong and will make her wish she had never asked.

Below is Linda’s recipe. Measure the ginger carefully and adjust to suit your taste. If you like your dishes warm and can tolerate ginger—go ahead!

Cranberry Compote

2/3 cup shallots

2 teaspoons garlic

2 teaspoons ginger

In a small saucepan, heat a small amount of olive oil over low heat. Sauté shallots; garlic and ginger and cook about 1 minute longer.

Stir in:

1 12-oz bag frozen or fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup rice vinegar (or cider vinegar)

½ teaspoons salt

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 8–10 min until most of the cranberries pop and the mixture has thickened. Cool before serving.

Apple crisp – I wanted to use up some Braeburn apples I’d felt were a little too tart for my taste as an eating apple, so I was planning to use apples in some way last night, and once I’d decided for sure to make the compote, I knew I’d do an apple dessert instead of baked apples as a side dish. For weeks, I’d been wanting to try an apple crisp recipe I’d found online; so with visions of baked and bubbling apple-ness in my head and nostrils, I stopped at Russ’s Market on my way home from work and bought some oatmeal for the apple crisp topping.

When I got home and rushed to consult the recipe, knowing my baking time before dinner was going to be short if I didn’t hurry, I realized two important things: (1) the recipe I’d been planning to try didn’t include oatmeal at all; and (2) it did call for two cups of flour, and I am completely out of standard enriched flour.

I did have a bag of white whole wheat flour in the cabinet, but having had at least one unfortunate experience substituting cup for cup with white flour in a cake for my dad’s birthday last year, I wasn’t about to just substitute the whole wheat flour for the standard white. Also, I didn’t want to waste the newly purchased cardboard can of oatmeal. Furthermore, the apple crisp I had been fantasizing of and salivating over in my mind definitely would have oatmeal in the topping. 

So, I rushed to the basement to find an apple crisp recipe that would be heavy on the oatmeal and light on the flour—so I could use only a small amount of the whole wheat flour—plus one that wouldn’t have to be cooked very long. That would mean using less apples, and I was hoping for a recipe that wouldn’t call for 6 or more apples and proportionate companion ingredients, because I could easily see myself using just 2-3 apples and then forgetting to cut the rest of the ingredients proportionately. In just a few minutes, I found a recipe that seemed a good fit.

I found the apple crisp to be easy to put together. I wound up using just two large Braeburn apples, because they sufficiently covered the bottom of the baking dish, but in retrospect I would have liked to use one more to make the fruit filling thicker in the finished product. I mixed up the dry ingredients exactly as suggested, adding dutifully, at the end, a teaspoon of salt.

The apple crisp baked like a dream—ready in just 40 minutes, bubbling, and golden brown. I served it out to Chris, his brother Jeremiah, and his parents (but not my boys, who want only chocolate for dessert these days), and then to myself. And in the first bite, I knew—too salty!

This time, I got agreement from my guests. “But it’s very good too,” said my mother-in-law.

After dinner I asked Chris if he thought he would eat the leftovers.

“I’ll have to see how it tastes when it’s cooled,” he said.

Yeah, I’m sure it will be less salty when it’s cooled. Quite likely, salt and ginger lose their potency when ingested at room temperature.

 I don’t know why the crisp was too salty. I followed the recipe. Was the amount in the recipe a mistake? Does white whole wheat flour interact differently with salt than standard enriched flour?

Next time I am going to use only one-fourth teaspoon of salt. It should be fine. After all, my brother-in-law, Jeremiah, pointed out last night that when he makes apple crisp at work (he works in the kitchen of an assisted living home), they don’t add salt at all. So I’m going to play it safe.

So I have a plan for the future. But for now—someone, please eat the leftovers. The dish is covered in foil on my stove. You probably won’t taste the salt at all, now that the crisp has cooled …

Oh, who am I kidding. I can still taste the salt now!

My First Zucchini Bread

To peel or not to peel … That was the question I faced this past Sunday as I prepared to bake my first loaf of zucchini bread ever—at age 33. How did I get to this age and never make zucchini bread? I don’t know. At any rate, I stood there with a giant green zucchini in my hand, looking to the photocopied cookbook recipes my mother-in-law had given me. The two of the three recipes on the sheet that she said she’d tried before called for “peeled, grated zucchini.” I never would have doubted the seemingly innocuous word peeled if I hadn’t just read in my Joy of Cooking that you should never peel summer squash. But both tried-and-true recipes called for peeled zucchini. I was frozen by the dilemma.

Never is a strong word. If someone used the word never to describe peeling zucchini, then why was “peeled, peeled, peeled” plastered all over the cookbook page in front of me?

One of the recipes said that the zucchini could be left unpeeled if it were a small one. There was no mention of why you ought to peel a big zucchini—and this zucchini was definitely big. Admittedly, I have little experience in comparing zucchini sizes, but the friend at work who had grown the zucchini had said casually, “It’s kind of a big one,” so I knew it was big.

I thought about taking a chance. Hadn’t I seen little green specks in zucchini bread I’d eaten before? Surely those specks were bits of zucchini peel… surely it was acceptable to take a chance.

But I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t break with the recipe, couldn’t venture out into the unknown without some assurance that It Would Be Okay, that peel would not ruin the bread. So I peeled my zucchini.

It was surprisingly easy to peel. I used my little metal vegetable peeler, and found the zucchini peeled much easier than a carrot and was entirely peeled in a minute or two. Once done, I found myself with a slick, naked zucchini, ready to grate.

Grate ideas …

Grating ought to be easy too. It probably would have been, if:

  • My grater weren’t coming apart because I am too cheap to buy a new one yet.
  • I’d tried grating it into something larger than my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup.
  • I’d thought to cut the zucchini into manageable, easier-to-grate pieces.
  • I hadn’t peeled the zucchini.

It isn’t easy at all to hold a large zucchini with no peel by one slippery end and slide it vigorously across an old grater that has to be held together with one hand and gripped carefully over the center of a smallish measuring cup.

At the beginning of the process, the zucchini slid around on the grater. I had to resort to wrapping the end in a dishcloth while I grated, but before long, the dishcloth was in the way of the zucchini and the grater and I had to go back to using my bare hands. It’s better to use your bare hands anyway, so you can really feel and control your movements—however inexperienced they might be.

Eventually the zucchini was grated, although much of it had to be salvaged from the counter top and added furtively to the small amount of zucchini that had actually fallen in the measuring cup. I say “furtively,” because whenever I scoop ingredients off the counter and use them, I worry that Chef Gordon Ramsey of TV-cooking-and-restaurant-show fame is going to see what I have done and scream at me that I am a bleeping something-or-other—and a total pig on top of that.

But there was little chance that Chef Ramsey would appear, and I had to salvage as much zucchini as possible.

I must digress to share some things I learned about zucchini during this process:

  • Zucchini has a lot of water in it and becomes really pulpy when grated. I had to wipe the grater dry several times.
  • Being so pulpy, zucchini will jam up your grater, so clean out the grater’s holes frequently for best grating results.
  • Zucchini have seeds.

Should I have known all this already? No doubt I should be pitied or locked out of my kitchen. But I had to share, because all of this was news to me.

The seeds, for some reason, particularly surprised me. Of course zucchini would have seeds, but when I saw the first one, I stopped grating, picked it up carefully, and thought, “Ain’t that something?”

Oil and Apple Sauce …

With the zucchini grated and the seeds duly inspected, I was ready to mix my ingredients. I expected this part of the process to be uneventful. Everything did go smoothly until it was time to add one cup of oil. I saw quickly that I wasn’t going to have enough oil to fill a cup. So what did I do?

I used one half cup oil and one half cup apple sauce. What cook hasn’t tried this or a similar substitution from time to time?

But I worried about the apple sauce. While some experts blithely recommend substituting apple sauce for oil, I’ve learned the hard way that the apple sauce can change the taste, the texture, and more of whatever you’re trying to bake. I once produced a rather unusual giant oatmeal chocolate chip cookie as a result of substituting apple sauce for oil, but that’s a story for another time. 

In this situation, the alternatives to using apple sauce were to use peanut oil or olive oil, and the former sounded slightly nauseating while the latter meant using the last of the most expensive oil in my house in one fell swoop. I measure my olive oil use in teaspoons, not cups. The stuff is precious. For these logical reasons, I settled on apple sauce as the solution and tried to put certain horrible former experiences out of my mind.

Approximately one hour passed, the bread tested “done” with a toothpick stabbed repeatedly into the center (I just couldn’t trust the first, or second or third stab), and I set my culinary work on the stove top to cool. Probably I had been silly to worry about the apple sauce

Two days later …

My overpoweringly apple-flavored bread sits on my counter now, tasting nothing like any zucchini bread anyone has ever served me, with the distinctive green specks noticeably absent. I miss those specks. Worse, one of the loaves is held together only by the Press-N-Seal plastic wrapped around it. It looks mutilated.

Honestly, the bread just didn’t hold together very well, thanks to the apple sauce. And yes, I swear the loaf pan was well-greased—I’ve already been questioned on that topic. I’m telling you, even if you grease your loaf pan well, beware—if you’ve used apple sauce in place of oil, you’ve lost some of your binding power.

True, that may not have been entirely the fault of the apple sauce. Apparently one should let loaves of bread cool before one attempts to pry them from the plan with a knife. I read that somewhere, but it sounded unimportant at the time. Well, who knew? I thought maybe loaves of bread went on cooking like eggs do if you don’t take them from the dish they’ve been cooked in.

In addition to that thing about letting bread cool being a matter of actual import, I also learned, through a web search today, that people who know how to cook don’t peel the zucchini for zucchini bread. This is backed up by real-life sources, including one friend who laughed her head off at the idea of someone peeling a zucchini before making bread with it.

I laughed too—it all seems so obvious, in retrospect.

Time for more confession: frankly, the bread shames me. Every time I look at it on the counter, I cringe. I remember things I could have done differently. I want to give it away—but as an adult, I bear the responsibility for my own actions, and so I must keep and eat the bread. And force my husband to eat some. He claims it tastes good, just kind of—well, apple-y.

But there’s always a sunny side, isn’t there? The bread is delightfully moist. And if you didn’t know it was supposed to be plain old classic zucchini bread, the apple taste would be kind of nice.

That is how it would be described in my cookbook—moist and fragrant with apple—if I ever published such a cookbook. You’d find this description under the entry “Apple Zucchini Bread,” perhaps with a little introduction noting, in light-hearted language, that the recipe was developed through a happy accident.

Yeah, definitely “happy.” Later, that’s how I’ll tell it.

Pesto Not My Besto

Pesto not my besto …

If it weren’t for my friend Abby, I would never have tried to make pesto. But Abby, an excellent cook, makes everything look easy. So I thought I would try to reproduce her Pesto and Pine Nut Pasta.

I decided to do this even though I had no experience with basil, usually steer clear of green food (no green eggs and ham, thank you), and refused to spend the money on pine nuts. I figured I could substitute sunflower seeds. They look alike to me.

It would have been wiser if I had left the pesto to Abby and our other similarly talented friends, but when I saw fresh basil at the Farmer’s Market one morning in June, I suddenly saw myself expertly whipping up a batch up pesto in the kitchen, serving it chilled with angel hair pasta to a group of admiring friends, and saying humbly as they praised my work, “Oh, it’s just a little recipe I picked up from Abby … she’s the real cook, you know.”

Well, that part is true. Abby can make the pesto, and I should leave it completely alone until I take an appropriate related cooking course somewhere in town and receive full step-by-step instruction in the art of the basics of basil. Because if my first attempt at making pesto is any indication, I’m not ready yet.

I can’t get it out of my head even now. I didn’t know pesto could be so messy. The green goo, the olive oil everywhere—it took so long to wash that slippery substance off of my utensils, out of the blender, off my hands. Like Lady Macbeth before me, I think I stood there, muttering “Out, out!” my hands stretched out from my body, disgusting, frightening, and sad.

Like her, I was helpless to heal what I had done.

When I try to think about it calmly, I see that I made a couple of mistakes.

First, when I realized that I had only a mini food processor in which to blend an entire batch of pesto, I could have halved the recipe. I could have divided the ingredients into two halves, mixed them separately, and then poured them together. I could even have blended one or two ingredients at a time.

But no, I crammed everything—everything—into my tiny food processor. It fit. Just. I had to mash the basic down with my hands. I had a moment of clenched jaws as I poured in the olive oil, the sunflower seeds, the other ingredients, and saw what a tight fit it was going to be. But when I was able to cram the lid on, I thought I had escaped trouble.

I was wrong. When I pressed the Start button on the processor, nothing happened. I tried again. And again. Next I tried removing pinches of ingredients from the processor, dropping them into a separate bowl and trying to work the processor again with less inside it. But it was still so full that it wouldn’t work.

I began to panic and pressed the button harder.  At this point, a piece of plastic flew out from the center of the processor and was quickly slimed by olive oil and lost in the basil leaves. I fished out the piece of plastic and thought, “This can’t be good.”

Obviously I couldn’t keep on going as I was. I transferred the gummy, bruised leaves and dripping oil and all into a bowl, tried unsuccessfully, to clean my hands, and pulled out my rarely used blender. I knew it would be hard to clean, but it had to work. And it did. Using the blender, I produced a batch of normal-looking pesto in moments.

I looked at the pesto in the blender. I began to think that perhaps things would turn out well after all. It was going to take a while to clean the blender, and I had dirtied a fair number of dishes and covered every surface in sight with a blend of green gunky mess, sunflower seeds, and costly oil, but I had pesto.

I moved forward with preparing the pasta. I think that at this point it might have been wiser to refrigerate the pesto and think carefully about my next moves, but that is not what I did. Instead, trying to put this entire incident behind me, I cooked up a bunch of angel hair pasta—stopping at one point to call Abby and ask a question, but she wasn’t home—drained the finished pasta, and mixed in the pesto. Then I stopped to survey my creation.

Was it supposed to be so green? I wondered. It was really, really green. I didn’t remember Abby’s pasta being quite so green.

I sniffed the dish. My nose wrinkled a little. Then I took a bite.

Something was—pungent. I thought I knew what it was. While the pine nuts in Abby’s salad just belonged—were unremarkable, in a way, because they blended—the sunflower seeds were very noticeably present. And, as I said—to put it nicely—pungent.

I had only one hope left. I covered the dish with plastic wrap and threw it in the fridge. It would probably look better … and smell and taste better … after it was chilled.

And then, after cleaning what I could, I left the house on some errand, escaping the scene of the crime.

When I returned home, my husband greeted me in the kitchen. “Abby called,” he said. “She says to use 16 ounces of pasta.”

I had used 8 ounces.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said, airily. “I already finished the pasta—I couldn’t wait. And anyway, I didn’t mix in all of the pesto.”

Which is true, but I had used almost all of it, on half the amount of recommended pasta. That certainly explained the extreme greenness of the pasta sitting in my refrigerator.

I asked my husband to take a taste. He did. Then said nothing and walked away.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I’m not crazy about pesto,” he said. “I’m no judge.”

I cocked my head and looked sideways at the pasta. I imagine, I thought, that if you liked pesto, this wouldn’t look so green.

And probably you’d think the sunflower seeds added a really nice flavor.

Hoping this was true, I bravely took my Pesto and Pine Nuts Pasta to a church potluck picnic that night. But I knew I was in trouble when I saw that we had arrived late and everyone already had full plates. I had a sinking suspicion that unless my dish were placed in front of a line of very hungry people, no one was going to try it. I knew, somehow, that no one who was already full was going to take a serving of that pasta.

And I was right. I took the bowl home with me that night, completely full. I set it on the counter. And I made a decision. I dumped the entire lump of green pasta into the trashcan, and I took my serving bowl to the sink and washed always the traces of the pesto that would, I knew, haunt me in days to come.

Remember the pesto, will come the whisper.

You know what I think? I don’t even think they should let me buy basil at the market. The old man who sold it to me that pleasant June morning should have been accompanied by a wise-looking, wrinkled farming wife with graying hair in a bun who would have said sternly, “Young woman, do you know what you’re going to do with that basil when you get it home?”

Because I didn’t know. Although, to be honest, I probably would have claimed, offended, that I did know what I was doing. Sometimes I can be just a frightful liar—or downright delusional.

And that is probably why there is a small bag of frozen pesto, the bit I didn’t throw in the pasta, waiting deep in my freezer. Because I still want to be Abby.

And, Lord help us all, I continue to try.

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